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Baseball study aims for better understanding of hitting

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ECU club baseball player Andrew Monroe hits a ball as doctoral student Chris Curran observes.


By ECU News Services

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Eastern North Carolina is rich in baseball tradition, with a pair of Hall of Famers among its native sons.

That tradition could take a step forward through work researchers at East Carolina University are doing to better understand the science of hitting.

Specifically, they are focusing on what a hitter’s eyes see as a pitch is hurling toward them at upward of 100 miles per hour and how the brain processes that visual information and then instructs the body to swing.

Kinesiology faculty members Nick Murray and Patrick Rider are leading the study. Using motion-capture and eye-tracking technology, they and a group of students tested hitters in the fall at Next Level Training Center in Greenville. Test batters from high-school to semi-pro levels were fitted with dozens of sensors as well as special goggles to track their eye movements as they watched and then swung at pitches.

The goal, Rider said, is “understanding how hitters process that visual information and turn it into a swing.” That, in turn, could help players and coaches know what hitters see, how and why they react to it, and, ultimately, turn them into better players.

“You have a very short time to process what you’re seeing and hit that moving target,” said Rider, a teaching instructor and associate director of the ECU Performance Optimization Lab. He said their findings could lead to new drills or training methods.

Next Level owner Trent Britt agreed. “We’re excited because it’s one more way of looking at things,” said Britt, an ECU graduate who’s spent years as a Major League scout, coach and training expert. He also did the pitching for the study.

“We don’t really get an opportunity to see things from a scientific perspective and what the body is doing. This is one more set of data points,” Britt said. “This is the way sports and baseball are headed. Hitting and anything involving movement is very much an evolving science. It gives us a chance to question are we seeing what we think we’re seeing and help kids get better.”

Assisting with the research are doctoral student Chris Curran, who is a former college baseball pitcher; master’s students Ryan Silberg, Andy Jung and Nate Harris; and undergraduate Callie Herman.

In kinetics terms, hitting a baseball is what’s called an “interceptive task” – a motion that changes the course of a moving object.

“Baseball batting is a cognitively demanding interceptive timing task that requires precision and power,” said Murray, an associate professor and director of the Visual Motor Lab. Previous research has shown expert hitters have a greater ability to spot a moving object, but little research has connected that ability with head position and motor control. “And the fact we’re studying eye-tracking during a realistic at-bat – that is, using a pitcher instead of a machine – makes this study unique.”

If Murray and eye-tracking sound familiar, they should. In 2017, he and kinesiology faculty member Chris Mizelle studied golfers’ eye movements while putting. They’ve presented that research and are in the process of publishing it, Murray said.

ECU graduate students collect sunshine baskets

Ten ECU graduate students have helped Pender County elementary and middle school students start the new year with much needed school supplies.

Lauren Patterson, a special education teacher in Wake County and graduate student in the ECU College of Education, coordinated a supply drive this fall for children in schools devastated by Hurricane Florence.

Patterson and nine others from the Wake County Public School System enrolled in ECU’s Master of School Administration program collected items from across the Raleigh area for “sunshine baskets.” Donors included school service clubs, fitness groups and PEAK Civitan Club, which sponsored 25 baskets. The group also received monetary donations from across the United States and abroad for the project.

On Jan. 2, Patterson and another teacher and friend Sarah Bankert delivered 175 baskets filled with school supplies to Cape Fear elementary and middle schools and Rocky Point Elementary in Pender County.

Patterson said the experience of delivering the baskets is something she will never forget.

“There are students and teachers still across the county that are in need of support,” Patterson said. “To quote my idol Ellen DeGeneres, ‘Be kind to one another.’ It’s literally one of the easiest things to do. Continue to reach out to the local school system or other organizations across Pender County to see how you can help.”

Franklin nabs prize in essay contest

ECU construction management student Joseph Franklin was selected by the Associated General Contractors Education and Research Foundation as the winner of its annual Allhands Essay Competition. Franklin will travel to the AGC convention in Denver in April and earned a $1,000 cash prize for himself and $500 for his faculty advisor, Bryan Wheeler. Franklin’s essay addressed the issue of attracting and retaining top employees in the construction industry.

“My focus was that by placing proper value on an employee’s contribution in the workplace/field, that good retention would follow,” Franklin said. “This is important to me as I am about to enter the construction field as a new employee and believe that my work is valuable. All employees contribute to companies to provide a good product or service and should be compensated and recognized in a variety of ways that focus on extrinsic as well as intrinsic needs. I believe that by doing this, companies can attract and retain top employees.”

Franklin wrote the essay for Wheeler’s class on construction quality and human resource management.

“I am absolutely thrilled and very excited for Joseph,” Wheeler said. “He is the first student to win this competition in my 12 years of teaching at ECU. Joseph is an outstanding student, and his attention to detail and research of this topic were instrumental in winning the competition.”

Franklin, who returned to school for his construction management degree after 15 years as a pastor, said traveling to the national construction conference will be a first for him. Some of the prize money will be used so that his wife can travel with him, he said.

“I hope that I will be introduced to some of the top construction companies in the country as well as meet with some of the leading construction managers and owners,” he said.